To look at the post’s title, you may be forgiven for thinking I had made a summer trip to the Arctic (aside from the date), or perhaps a double header twitch to one of Scotland’s rarity magnet islands. Our trip, to see both of these birds in one superb days twitching, was in fact, quiet the opposite. All this Arctic action was talking place on Britain’s south coast.
The day started at 3am, leaving north Norfolk with Pete ‘immortal’ Colston and Simon Dennis, collecting David Norgate in Swaffham and arriving at Portland Harbour for around 8:30am. It was here we hoped to connect with the Brunnich’s Guillemot. This bird had been performing well to large crowds for a couple of days and eventually did the same for us; swimming past closely after just a short wait. After the superb Ivory Gull up in Yorkshire on Christmas Eve, I didn’t expect to be watching another Arctic species in Britain so soon.
Brunnich’s Guillemot, Portland Harbour, taken by Sam Viles. Note: The more extensively dark head in comparison to the two commoner auks. The shorter, stouter bill with pale edge to the upper-part of the gape. The cleaner flank is not visible due to the over-hanging wing.
The harbour also had plenty more to offer, asides the Brunnich’s. A large group of Red-breasted Merganser were moving freely around the calm waters, along with 2 Great northern Diver, 2 Black-throated Diver, 2 Razorbill, a single Kingfisher and a cracking, frosty Black Guillemot. Only the second one I have ever seen.
A brief stop as we travelled through Weymouth, allowed us good views of a Glossy Ibis. The ibis was feeding on a flooded football pitch, very close to an active playground.
Glossy Ibis, Weymouth, taken by John Friendship-Taylor.
The plan had been to connect with the Brunnich’s and then head back to Norfolk, but the temptation of the White-billed Diver a couple of hours to the west of Portland was too tempting. Getting to Brixham wasn’t as simple as we would have liked though, but a wrong turn did give us a Dipper on the side of a fast-flowing river.
We eventually arrived at Brixham, via some ropey roads and a Chain Ferry. We were again faced with a sheltered harbour buzzing with avian action. The monstrous White-billed Diver soon gave itself up too, rising from the water like a battleship, sporting a nuclear weapon for a bill. This species is one I have always admired in field guides and it was everything I had always hoped for. The bird was loosely associating with Black-throated & Great northern Divers; both species dwarfed by their massive cousin.
Also around the quay, small numbers of Purple Sandpiper and Rock Pipit.
White-billed Diver, Brixham, taken by Sam Viles.
The whole Christmas period really has thrown up some brilliant birds. An absolutely stunning climax to 2013.